By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The King County Sheriff’s Office helicopter Guardian One isn’t always just up over somebody’s neighborhood in the middle of the night.
This week alone, members of its crew made two appearances on the ground in our area. One happened today at White Center Heights Elementary (the photo above is from its landing), and we’ll have that story on our partner site White Center Now later tonight.
First – last night’s presentation and Q & A at the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting at the Southwest Precinct, featuring one of the county’s pilots, Deputy Hersh Hoaglan:
That’s our video of his presentation, in which he explained everything from who’s in the helicopter to what really happened that recent night the county’s loudest helicopter was heard making repeated passes over the area. Highlights ahead:
Deputy Hoaglan, wearing his olive-green flight jumpsuit, exhibited a dry wit: “So you hear the helicopter over your house … and you wonder if an axe murderer is out there. 99.999% of the time, that’s not the case. Actually, I’ve never been to an axe-murderer call.”
The helicopter goes to all kinds of calls, he explained. The unit has 1 sergeant and 4 deputies. To become a pilot, you have to go through TFO training – tactical flight officer. So deputies in the unit are cross-trained as both pilots and TFO’s (that’s the deputy in the chopper that does the work with the cameras, talks to the radio dispatchers, etc.). KCSO Air Support is also one of two hoist-equipped non-military units and that takes them around a wide area for up to 25 missions a year – they have 10 hoist operators/rescue specialists assigned to the unit as an ancillary duty.
Two aircraft are known as Guardian One when they’re up; one is a 1973 Jet Ranger that used to be a Grand Canyon tourist helicopter. The main search-and-rescue helicopter, Guardian Two, is a 1970 single-engine Bell UH-1H (Huey) – military surplus. “There’s nothing like being up against a mountain face in the middle of the night in a single-engine helicopter,” Deputy Hoaglan quipped. A second helicopter of that type is out of service right now and slated to get rebuilt this year, with the help of some grant money – new engine, new blades, and it will then be the main search-and-rescue helicopter.
During Q/A, he clarified a Guardian Two situation we covered here on April 5th because the noise woke/kept so many people up – the night they rescued a fallen hiker from Seattle in the Olympic Mountains. Hoaglan said they actually made three trips out to the Olympics – first with Guardian Two, but they had trouble finding the victim, came back, changed helicopters to Guardian One, found the hiker, then flew back here again, got the Huey (because of its hoist capabilities) and went back for the third time and rescued the climber. When they’re in the Huey, they’ll be louder over eastern West Seattle as they have to drop down lower to stay out of the way of Sea-Tac traffic.
Back to the basics:
KCSO is the only full-time law-enforcement helicopter unit in the region. The nearest one otherwise is in the Bay Area; Snohomish County “has crews available for callouts.”
The unit also trains to be able to drop officers onto vessels – state ferries, for example – if they need to. They can use an AirTep (looks like an upside-down umbrella).
Who pays for the air unit? King County pays maintenance and fuel and salaries, but the rest comes from grants.
What do they do? From the slide deck Deputy Hoaglan narrated:
*Support for patrol
*Handle patrol calls
*LoJack/ProNet [tracking devices]
*Airborne Marksmen (they have not had to shoot from the air, he said, but they have trained to pick up a SWAT officer and deploy from area if need be)
*Fast Rope Insertion
*Hasty Tactical Team
If the President comes to town, he elaborated, they “fly the Secret Service around.”
*Contract city presentations [the cities that contract with KCSO for policing]
*School presentations [like the one made today at WCH Elementary]
More about what they do: The helicopter has two cameras – a live feed to the officers on the ground is coming soon, possibly by midsummer, so the police will be able to “see what we see” from their laptops.
What constitutes a “typical” police call in which Guardian One gets involved? Say they’re up in Seattle – say, “Kent calls, we go down there and fly left turns until the situation is resolved – could be two minutes, could be an hour” – a full tank of fuel in the main helicopter lasts for up to three hours, the backup lasts two to two and a half hours.
The helicopter is based at Renton, not Boeing Field, though they fuel up at BFI, so if you see them land there, that’s why.
Sorry, no ridealongs, said Dep. Hoaglan in response to a question.
How fast can the helicopter go? Max speed with its new camera is 120 knots – almost 130 mph.
What do you do inbetween calls? Hoaglan’s on the day shift right now and “we do a lot of sitting behind a desk unless there’s a call.” At night, “it’s the opposite” – some admin work at the start and then they fly patrol, at least 4 hours a night – if nothing specific, they’ll fly “a quick racetrack” (pattern) around the county. They monitor the law-enforcement channels, “listen(ing) to a lot of radios at once … and if something comes up, we’ll just go. … If we wait until dispatch calls for us,” they’re behind.
What’s the maximum number of people they can carry? Depending on which helicopter, 4 to 6 people, but the more people, the less gas; the Huey can have “8 SWAT guys and all their gear in the back and 2 pilots up front.”
How do they know house numbers from the air? Map overlay.
What’s FLIR? Forward-Looking Infrared, which detects heat, Dep. Hoaglan explained. “In most cases we have it set for ‘white as hot,’ so the hotter something is, the whiter it will be.” At this point, he showed an Oct. 26, 2013 clip of a pursuit that started in Burien. (If you watch the video, you’ll see a spot of technical difficulty during the attempt to get audio to work.) Here’s the video he showed:
He also explained why police cars might look “hotter” on the FLIR – because an officer’s been driving around for hours, compared to the civilian cars on the street.
Another insider note: The helicopter seldom uses the light, as it’s a tipoff to the suspect on the ground that s/he’s been seen.
Hate the noise? The new camera allows them to fly higher, which means a bit less noise.
Want to know more about King County Air Support? Here’s an info-laden webpage. And you can watch dozens of videos via its YouTube channel (when they post video from an incident we cover, we add it to the story when it’s available, as was the case with this one last weekend).
A few other notes from the WSBWCN meeting:
MORE ABOUT THE HIGHLAND PARK ARREST: Sgt. Joe Bauer from the Anti-Crime Team mentioned the “pawn-shop hunch” arrest from last week, saying the suspect was arrested for burglary and car theft, and was found with meth as well as equipment often used by car thieves. As police usually say, Sgt. Bauer noted that this arrest could solve other cases.
NEW PRECINCT COMMANDER: Capt. Pierre Davis spoke to the group for the first time since the Block Watch Captains were among the first to hear a month ago that he was returning as precinct commander – a role he had filled temporarily a year earlier, before he was appointed to lead the East Precinct. He had high praise for the WSBCWCN, saying they’ve “got it down to a science.” For neighbors in West Seattle, “you guys are the world’s best tattletales.” He exhorted people to “bombard 911” with information so resources can best be assigned. He said police are involved in a “whole lot of operations right now” that he couldn’t talk about and is hopeful that will cut the recent spike in several areas. “If you see something, say something,” was his request.
Speaking of which, a tip:
HOW TO GET THROUGH TO A LIVE PERSON ON THE NON-EMERGENCY NUMBER: Sometimes people get stuck in the automated tree – so if that happens to you – after you call 206-625-5011, press 2, and then 8, advised Community Police Team Officer Erin Nicholson.
The Block Watch Captains Network usually meets on fourth Tuesdays, 6:30 pm, at the precinct. Between meetings, keep up with the happenings via wsblockwatchnet.wordpress.com.